What causes us to age? We often think of aging as the things we lose, things that decline or decay over time, wrinkles, graying hair, less muscle mass, less energy, and decreased libido. So, is aging inevitable? Is it a disease?
Scientists theorize that aging is accumulated wear and tear from toxins, free-radical damage, chronic inflammation, declining hormone levels, DNA-damaging radiation, disease, and stress. The thinking is that eventually, our bodies wear out and simply can’t fight back.
The intro to this article will delve into one of these causes of aging, free-radical damage. We will explain free radicals, how they affect your body, what causes free radicals, and how you combat them, which brings us to antioxidants such as Vitamin E.
This “Best of” article will detail Vitamin E supplements, their role in combatting free radicals, the benefits of Vitamin E supplementation, and finally, we will provide our choices for the best Vitamin E supplements. As always, our selections are unbiased as we have no interest or affiliation with any of the products or brands selected.
The Free Radical Theory of Aging
The free radical theory of aging was initially described in the 1950s by Denham Harman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The theory proposed that organisms age due to accumulated oxidative damage. Although more recent clinical studies dispute the extent of free radical damage, Harman’s theory remains the most popular concept in the area of aging, with thousands of articles published every year.
Oxidation – Free Radical Damage
One of the most damaging aging processes is oxidative stress due to free radicals. When one thinks of oxidation, think of it as rusting, from the inside out.
So, what exactly is a free radical? They are molecules, like toxic waste in your cells. They are produced from environmental toxins, and other sources such as stress, pollution, smoking, alcohol, excessive exposure to the sun, even intense exercise.
Free radicals inflict damage on our cells as they roam through our bodies interfering with normal cell function. They are considered unstable molecules because they have a single unpaired electron. Searching for electrons, they latch on to any other nearby molecule and damage it by changing its shape, which renders it useless and sometimes dangerous. This process, in effect, creates a chain reaction where each new unpaired electron passes on unpaired electrons to other victims, creating further damage.
As we age, the cellular structures that keep free radicals under control begin to degrade, resulting in oxidative stress. This degradation occurs when too many free radicals exist, and your cells are too sick or too old to neutralize the damage.
Wrinkles are just part of aging, right? Did you know that free radicals are involved in skin aging? Arthritis, yes, free radicals. Cataracts? Blindness? Macular degeneration? All a result of free radical damage – and free radicals are also involved in heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Who is at risk of oxidative stress? We are all exposed to free radicals, but certain factors increase the risk of oxidative stress. Risk factors include a poor diet, age, exposure to toxins, intense exercise, and illness.
Causes Of Free Radical Damage
Diet – Those with a low intake of antioxidant nutrients are at increased risk of oxidative stress. In general, the modern diet of processed foods contains only a tiny fraction of the antioxidants that our ancestors would consume daily. It is believed that foods high in antioxidants destroy free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy cells, protect cells against premature aging, and strengthen the immune system.
Age – Free radical damage increases with age. This damage is a result of the body’s antioxidant reserves declining as we get older. The digestive system also becomes less efficient at extracting and absorbing antioxidant nutrients.
Intense exercise – Athletes are at an increased risk of oxidative stress because of the high number of free radicals created in the muscles, lungs, and heart during strenuous exercise. Anyone who spends a great deal of time outdoors will also have an increased oxidative burden from exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Exposure to toxins – Those who are exposed to environmental pollutants such as smog, cigarette smoke, pesticides, or other industrial or agricultural toxins will have an increased oxidative burden. In our industrialized society, exposure to these environmental pollutants in our air, food, and water supplies is, unfortunately, the norm.
Illness – Those with chronic diseases, infections, or inflammation, also have elevated levels of free radical activity. Extra protection is needed to minimize the effects of oxidative stress during illness.
One of your cell’s components most severely affected by free radicals is DNA, which is the material that makes up your genes. DNA is the storehouse of all the information that makes up who you are. The reaction of DNA with free radicals can change the shape of, or mutate part of the DNA, and possibly cause specific genes to be turned “on” or turned “off” or even eradicated. If these disruptions affect critical genes, often, the result is a cancerous cell.
Antioxidants To The Rescue – Vitamin E
Fortunately, antioxidants, like vitamin E, neutralize free radicals by donating the missing electrons that destabilize them. Antioxidants are found in many foods and are made in our bodies using the vitamins and minerals found in the food we consume. According to the National Institute of Health, Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that may help reduce free radical damage and slow the aging process of your cells.
This essential nutrient, an antioxidant, may help protect your cells from damage, occurs naturally in many foods, and is also available as a dietary supplement. Vitamin E is fat-soluble, meaning your body stores the nutrient and uses it as needed.
Vitamin E is essential for vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain, and skin. It also has antioxidant properties to combat free radical damage and may help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Vitamin E Supplements – Explained
Vitamin E has many different faces, occurring in eight various forms. The most commonly found types in supplements are:
Vitamin E supplements labeled “mixed tocopherols” contain various other natural forms, including beta- and delta-tocopherol. Vitamin E supplements typically come as either soft gels or vegetarian capsules, although there are also E oils.
Vitamin E Supplement Benefits
The most crucial benefit of Vitamin E is its role as a potent antioxidant. E is an essential nutrient, thought to help your whole body by supporting your immune system, acting as an anti-aging nutrient, and playing a role in memory, heart, liver, and eye health. E may also help prevent certain age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and even certain cancers.
Vitamin E may help people with higher environmental or lifestyle risk factors as free radicals are increased by:
- Cigarette smoking
- Exposure to air pollution
- High exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight
How Much Vitamin E Do You Need?
Unless you adhere to a very low-fat diet, it’s unlikely you’re vitamin E deficient. However, as mentioned, smoking, exposure to air pollution, or excess exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays can deplete your body’s stores of the vitamin.
According to the National Institutes of Health, teenagers and adults should get about 15 mg of vitamin E daily. Women who are breastfeeding should increase their intake to 19 mg.
In our research we discovered a concerning point regarding supplementing with vitamin E. Researchers examined the results of 19 clinical trials involving nearly 136,000 people who took vitamin E. They found that the risk of dying was higher for people who took 400 IU (the amount found in a typical vitamin E capsule) or more daily, compared to those who received lower doses.
It should be noted, the majority of those supplementing with E in the clinical trials were older, over 55 years of age, and many had underlying medical conditions.
What Forms Of Vitamin E Supplements Are Available?
The two types of vitamin E available as supplements are the natural form, d-alpha-tocopherol, and the synthetic form, which is dl-alpha-tocopherol. The natural form is slightly more biologically active. We recommend you check the label to determine which type of vitamin E is being used. Label information will help you ensure you’re getting the appropriate dosage.
Will Vitamin E Benefit Me?
Vitamin E is one of the most widely used supplements on the market today, taken regularly by more than one in four adults over the age of 55. It is one of the very few nutritional supplements recommended and used by a large contingent of medical professionals.
To be as transparent as possible, we should also relate that in March 2005, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical Institution published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine that claimed high doses of vitamin E might significantly increase mortality by all causes.
Based on a review of 19 clinical trials, their findings unleashed a firestorm of rebuttals, but little in the way of scientific proof.
Deficiencies of vitamin E are uncommon, except in people with unusual health problems, such as difficulties with fat absorption or rare genetic disorders. It’s also possible that a person on a very low–fat diet might be deficient.
So, Should You Use Vitamin E?
If you take the recommended dose, vitamin E is considered relatively safe. However, excessively high doses of vitamin E aren’t recommended.
Vitamin E is widely claimed to help speed healing and reduce scarring when applied to the skin. While there have been a few studies that support this, the most significant body of research indicates that vitamin E doesn’t help skin wounds heal faster.
Is Vitamin E Supplementation Safe?
Although it’s difficult to consume too much vitamin E in your regular diet, the NIH (National Institute of Health) reports that excessively high doses of E in supplement form can potentially cause serious side effects, including the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Dosages should not exceed 1,000 international units (IUs) per day if you’re using synthetic supplements. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for ages 14 and up is 15 milligrams (mg).
Important note – to convert from IU to mg: 1 IU of the natural form is equivalent to 0.67 mg of alpha-tocopherol. 1 IU of the synthetic form is equivalent to 0.45 mg of alpha-tocopherol. Thus 1,000 IUs per day would be 670 mg of natural alpha-tocopherol or 450 mg of synthetic, well exceeding the daily recommended allowance.
Vitamin E Supplement Alternatives
The easiest method to get sufficient vitamin E through your diet alone is to add a tablespoon of wheat germ oil to a recipe. Another method is to snack on sunflower seeds, providing over 20 mg of vitamin E, more than a full day’s requirement.
Hazelnuts and the foods below are excellent sources of vitamin E:
- Sunflower seeds, 1 ounce = 7.4 mg of vitamin E
- Hazelnuts, 1 ounce= 4.3 mg
- Dry roasted peanuts, 1 ounce, 2.2 mg
- Dry roasted almonds, 1 ounce, 6.8 mg
- Spinach, 1/2 cup, = 1.9 mg
- Broccoli, 1/2 cup, = 1.2 mg
- Mango, 1/2 cup, = 0.7 mg
Other foods rich in vitamin E include:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens
Best Vitamin E Supplements
When selecting the best E vitamins, we scoured the market for brands that adhere to the following:
- We ensured the products are manufactured in a certified cGMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- We looked for companies and brands that have independent third-party testing and money-back guarantees
Gamma E Mixed Tocopherols, from Life Extension
Life Extension is one of the most innovative companies in the anti-aging supplement space. The benefits of their Gamma E Mixed Tocopherols Vitamin E benefits range from antioxidant protection to promoting a healthy inflammatory response. You will remember inflammation is another major cause of aging and death. Gamma-tocopherol is one of the most important forms of vitamin E. Studies show the combination of alpha and gamma-tocopherol appears to be superior to supplementing with either form alone for inhibiting oxidative stress and inflammatory factors.
Raw Vitamin E, Vitamin Code, from Garden of Life
A sixty-serving container, 60 soft gels, retails for $24.99 on Amazon.com.
Raw Vitamin E is supplemented with Vitamins A, D, & K, and Selenium. The product is a Whole Food Supplement, Raw, Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, and Kosher for Heart Health. The Vitamin Code E also contains 23 organically grown fruits and vegetables, which add supporting antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrient cofactors. Benefits: aids in heart health, immune system support, digestive support, eye health, and breast & prostate health. Typical of a Garden of Life product their E includes a RAW Probiotic and Enzyme blend for digestive support.
E Pure dl-Alpha, from Nature’s Bounty
The brands of The Nature’s Bounty Company are some of the most trusted in the natural products space. Brands such as Met-RX, Pure Protein, Body Fortress, Sundown, Solgar, and, of course, Nature’s Bounty. The company manufactures and markets more than 16,000 nutritional supplement items.
All Nature’s Bounty products and ingredients are manufactured in cGMP facilities and subjected to independent third-party testing by United States Pharmacopeia and STR (Specialized Technology Resources).
Interestingly, the Nature’s Bounty website redirects you to Amazon.com when you opt to purchase. One-hundred and twenty soft gels cost $11.96.
Natural E, by Puritan’s Pride
For those seeking a more economical alternative to test vitamin E supplementation, we selected Natural E by Puritan’s Pride. The company has been in the natural products space for more than 45 years. They meet/exceed our testing protocols as their vitamins and minerals are tested or inspected as many as 15 times throughout the manufacturing process.
We have recently tested a few Puritan Pride products and have been pleasantly surprised at the quality and value of their products.
One-hundred soft gels are $9.33 on the Puritan Pride website.
Stacking Vitamin E With Other Supplements
Vitamin E can be stacked with multiple other vitamins, minerals, proteins, herbal supplements, and sports nutrition products depending on your goals and objectives.
To Summarize: Vitamin E Supplements
We hope this review has helped to educate and inform you about free radicals and antioxidants. We are major proponents of antioxidants to counteract free radical damage and chronic inflammation. We leave the supplementation decision to you. As discussed, few people are genuinely E deficient, and you can achieve your daily recommended allowance through diet.